Lillian Fallon, Author of ‘Theology of Style,’ Bridges Catholic Faith and Fashion

Fashionista aims to ‘help women understand their inherent worth and express the beauty of their feminine soul.’

L to R: Lillian Fallon loves to talk fashion;  ‘Theology of Style’ cover
L to R: Lillian Fallon loves to talk fashion; ‘Theology of Style’ cover (photo: Ascension)

Lillian Fallon knew it was time to leave New York when she got her big break. 

In the midst of a job search and at the end of a novena to St. Joseph the Worker, Fallon received word from the employer she had been hoping to hear from: her favorite designer label, offering her an assistant gig. The job depended on when the label needed extra hands in the city, and there was no busier time than New York Fashion Week.  

In her own words, Fallon wanted to conquer the fashion world. But by the end of her experience in that long-sought job, the illusion had been shattered. 

“I got an insider’s look at what the mainstream industry is like, and it was just people trying to prove that they were better than everyone else,” Fallon told the Register. “It only served the upper echelon, and it felt really disconnected from the rest of the world. I didn’t see how it was serving a greater purpose.”

She decided to move back home. “I don’t want to be in this world anymore,” she said of the fashion realm she had been so excited to participate in. “I don’t want to knock on this door anymore.”

Since then, Fallon has spoken and written about the profound importance of fashion in a variety of ways, appearing on Ascension Presents, dozens of podcasts, and many freelance sites. She works at Litany NYC, a Catholic fashion label based in New York. Often, Fallon posts “Outfits of the Day” on her Instagram account, with almost every outfit paired with her staple gold-rimmed glasses. 

Fallon’s presence in the fashion industry has culminated in her new book, Theology of Style: Expressing the Unique and Unrepeatable You

“The things we wear are a tangible sign of the relationship between body and soul,” she writes, showcasing how the articles of clothing we wear emphasize and reveal our intangible human beauty.  

Below, Fallon invites us into her own musings and reflections on fashion as an artform, the dignity we each possess, and the “theology of style.” 

You’re invested in getting to the “why” behind how people dress and how it can indicate a deeper self-perception. What experiences of your own does that spring from, and what has inspired you to write about it? 

When I first got to New York … I felt that temptation we all feel of wanting to fit in, to be accepted. For me, I was so desperate to be the cool New York City woman. I thought, “If I put on the clothes, it’ll make me that person.” But I just lost my unique identity, or the expression of it, because my identity couldn’t change. 

There was a moment where I was walking past a building in New York; and [at this building] the glass is all reflective. It’s basically like walking by a mirror — and I couldn’t find myself. Usually, you know, when you walk by, you see yourself right away in a mirror, but I couldn’t find myself because I just blended in with everyone else.

It was this moment where I had to take a step back and ask, “How did I get here?” Because my dressing just like everyone else corresponded to an internal reality where I was lacking confidence. I didn’t really know who I was. I constantly desired to be somebody else.

I decided to completely stop dressing fast fashion [referring to brands that have a high turnover of collections, depending on what’s trending that week, month, season, so it is purchased quickly, but then only worn for a very short period of time] and start shopping for either vintage or ethical brands. There was a correlation between that and my relationship with God, because the more that I dressed to express that I was a one-of-a-kind person, it started making me think, “Well, how am I one of a kind? Why am I one of a kind? Who made me one of a kind?” I was like, “Whoa — if I can write about this personal style as a way of seeing ourselves the way that God sees us, that could actually really help other women.” 

Where do you think Catholics can go wrong in discussions about dress and style, particularly in messages directed at young women?

There were a couple of years where I was so frustrated that the only conversation going on about the way that women dress was immediately and always about modesty. I felt like I had discovered this incredible tool of personal style that could help women understand their inherent worth and express the beauty of their feminine soul: something that paid homage to the way that women were made, something that was so exciting, something that was just absolutely part of a woman’s faith expression. Even now, when I talk about this book, especially if I’m talking to men, the first thing they want to jump into is the topic of modesty. I think, while it’s obviously important, it’s such a limiting view of the power of clothing.

If we go about modesty talking about rules first, people are not going to receive that well. Even the word “modesty” itself has a kind of negative connotation. The dictionary definition is to avoid impropriety or scandal. Immediately, you’ve got to “watch out.” If you’re modest, it’s a good thing, but only because you are avoiding something negative. I got frustrated with all of the baggage that was coming with this word “modesty.”

When I was studying theology of the body and how that applies to the way we dress, what really came to me was this concept of having reverence for your body and excitement to express how you’ve been made. The beauty of a woman is, for lack of a better word, a symptom of her highly esteemed role. Personal style is this way we can incorporate artistry into the overall expression of a woman.

What language do you think adults or Church leaders use that negatively affects a young woman’s body image?

We already have such a tumultuous relationship with our bodies as young women. When we lead first with the rules of, “Hey, I have to make sure you’re covering this much skin or not leading people astray,” I’ve seen a lot of girls go in the opposite direction, where they start dressing really frumpy, trying to disguise their body and hide. But in doing that, they disregard their inherent beauty. A woman’s beauty is a part of her evangelizing power. It’s a gift from God. I wish that we had more conversations in the Church about how we can make visible the invisible beauty of that woman’s heart. I think if we do that, then dressing modestly will be something that comes naturally. It’s something that pours out of the person when you have a full understanding of how you were made, what your purpose is, and that you are body-and-soul composite. 

How can we separate fashion as a means of sexualization and fashion as art?

In couture fashion, the woman is the model, but she also becomes a larger-than-life artistic expression because she’s wearing something incredible. But, of course, anything that has to do with beauty and goodness, the devil always attacks. It makes sense that in the objectification of women in the fashion industry, the devil will go for the woman and pervert her goodness.

St. John Paul II talks about how transcendental value can be emptied from art — the art can still exist, but the divine beauty of it is not present. In a lot of modern art, it’s a reflection of the brokenness of the human person. It just expresses the suffering of the person who created it, rather than pointing towards the divine. When we see trends that emphasize sexual appeal and a reduction of the human person to body parts, that’s an example of the transcendental value of clothing being emptied.

What do you think makes fashion art, and what limits our vision of it as such?

I see the creativity of women, and creativity is in every fiber of our being. Physically, we are creative — we can conceive and bear life in our wombs — but our souls are creative. Our souls reflect God. His unconditional love and ability to bear suffering is something he specifically imparted to women, who are all mothers, whether we have children or not. The feminine heart is the heart of the mother. 

I see woman as an artist, and I hate when it’s limited to, “Okay, now you have to put on this uniform and play a part and fit into what we think that Catholic femininity looks like.” Catholic femininity can also be bold colors, and funky silhouettes, and you can absolutely dignify and pay reverence to your body while having a lot of creative expression that reveals just how unrepeatable God made you.